After the beautiful weather of early June, the mixed weather of late, has seen the bees gathering just enough supplies to keep themselves going but not enough to add any surplus. Lets hope for better things soon.
I was asked about my beekeeping philosophy by a fellow beekeeper. Nice question! I am leaning towards minimal intervention. Bees know the working of their hives better then I do and I think we are seeing the consequences of too much intervention over the past century. It may be better to allow bees find their own balance in the world and that may require that we step back and focus on creating a healthy and safe environment for bees. I also notice that some beekeeping friends of mine seem to produce just as much, if not more honey, using minimal intervention!
This year I bought some wax foundation from a a supplier in Manorhamilton. She explained that her wax foundation was made from chemical free wax from Africa. She explained that the only place clean, chemical free wax can be found is in Africa! I will be interested to see if the bees notice the difference! The foundation is beautiful and looks a different class. It is good to give our bees the best!
Beavers and bees!
Last month I gave a beekeeping lesson to some Beaver scouts – aged between six and nine. I was wary and uncertain on how to deal with this age group. I prepared thoroughly, props of all sorts including a glass observation hive, even handouts.
I decided to begin by talking about the sting – I showed them a diagram and explained about the poison a bee injects into you. I was sitting on the floor with 25 children and one boy in the front row put up his hand. He told me that there was only one poisonous snake in the world, the rest were venomous. Following this logic he pointed out that bees injected venom not poison! Poison is something ingested whereas venom is injected! I almost lost my nerve!
‘When the Lord God created animals, He gave each a weapon with which to defend itself. He asked the bee what kind of weapon she would like and she begged for a sting which should be so poisonous that it would kill anyone whom she stung. But God would not grant her request; He gave her, indeed, a sting but it was not the person whom she stung who would die, but she herself.’
Four causes have been identified as likely causes for CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder)
1. Pests (varroa) and diseases. 2. Lack of forage (monoculture) and nutrition. 3. Exposure to pesticides. 4. Hive management.
It is very useful to have a supply of queens to replace one that is failing or if a colony has become queenless or you want to alter the traits of a colony. You may also wish to expand your number of hives – you can split your colonies and introduce queens into the queenless half.
Only breed queens from your best colonies and select for docility if for nothing else. The simplest method is to save queen cells made for swarming and placing them in mating nucs. Cut them out with a sharp knife – cut a inch in diameter around the cell being careful not to injure it.
You can also put a frame in the centre of the brood nest of a chosen colony. When it has eggs in it and before they start hatching remove and place in a strong colony from which the queen has been removed (placed in a nuc) and all combs containing eggs of brood (you can place these in a weaker colony). The bees start raising queen cells and when mature can be cut out with a sharp knife and put in mating nucs.
Last year a lot of queens were poorly mated….and this year we have had some queens becoming drone layers.
Thermotherapy treatment for varroa.
Varroa is very sensitive to temperature – just a few degrees higher than the optimum it can’t reproduce. Exposure to temperature above thirty eight degrees centigrade causes irreversible damage and above forty degrees it destroys the mite completely. Scientists are looking for ways to exploit this information and replace chemical treatments.
Work is going on to develop a thermo-solar hive. This can increase the temperature of the brood nest up to forty degrees. The hive is specially insulated and the temperature is maintained for two hours. Mortality of mites in capped cells is 100%. Throughout the treatment the beekeeper can control the temperature – if there is a risk of overheating the temperature can be controlled.
Short, intense thermal treatment is applied two to four times a year. Since it is carried out with the entrance open the heating needs to be repeated after 10-12 days to get the mites that were previously stuck on adult bees and so escaped the first heating.
The two stage treatment ensures the colony is mite free. Unlike house bees and brood, adult bees can tolerate the higher temperature for a limited time and can leave the hive if they over heat. Correctly performed thermo-therapy does not damage brood.
Urban beekeeping is becoming increasingly popular which is good for both the city and the bees. The idea is to take advantage of urban spaces such as roof tops to use as apiaries. Urban beekeepers provide increased pollination and also fresh local honey. The taste and colour of the honey is determined by the plants the bees visit. Thehoney tends to be darker than clover and absolutely delicious!